Bud Wilkinson’s Winning Streak…Owed to 3 Feet and a Few Seconds

TODAY IN HISTORY, JANUARY 2, 1956:

The University of Oklahoma Sooners win at the Orange Bowl.

30 games into a historic 47 game winning streak, legendary OU football coach Bud Wilkinson led his team to victory at the Orange Bowl. Wilkinson set the standard for the program.

All of that very nearly never happened.

Wilkinson had been part of several football victories in Minnesota during the thirties.

When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Bud did what many American heroes did, he put his life on hold and joined up. In his case, it was the U.S. Navy.

So it was that Bud became a member of yet another legendary team. The crew of the USS Enterprise had earned 20 Battle Stars during the war.

On May 14, 1945, Lieutenant Charles “Bud” Wilkinson was the Hangar Deck Officer. The Big E was maneuvering violently to avoid an onslaught of Kamikaze planes off the coast of Japan. Finally one of the suicide planes got through, and crashed into the flight deck just aft of the forward aircraft elevator. The explosion sent a large part of the 15 ton elevator 400 feet into the sky. Fourteen men were killed, 60 wounded.

The hangar deck was devastated, 25 aircraft aboard were destroyed.

Lt. Wilkinson happened to be standing on the opposite side of a girder from the blast…by Bud’s reckoning, had he been three feet closer to the explosion, he would have been killed. (Barrett Tillman, “Enterprise”, 2012)

How many Bud Wilkinsons did we lose? And how many owe their success in life to a matter of seconds which saved the coach’s life that day?

Bud Wilkinson would begin his OU odyssey two years later, leading the program from 1947 to 1963.

Bruno Peter Gaido & The Battle of Midway

Today in History, June 4, 1942:

The Battle of Midway and Aviation Machinist Mate First Class Bruno Peter Gaido.

In brief, US Pacific forces had been decimated by a Japanese onslaught since Pearl Harbor. The US Navy and USAAF had been fighting back, however, by bombing Japan during the Doolittle Raid, the Battle of the Coral Sea and several raids by Carrier Groups across the Pacific.

During a raid in March, 1942 on the Marshall Islands by a Task Force built around the USS Enterprise (CV 6), the ship was attacked by five twin engine Betty bombers.  Under withering fire, four turn back.  The lead plane however, attempts to crash into the aircraft carrier.  As the bomber grew closer, Aviation Machinist Mate Third Class Bruno Peter Gaido springs from the catwalk surround the flight deck and runs to a nearby SBD Dauntless Diver Bomber.  He climbs into the rear of the plane to use the rear gunner’s machine gun.  He began firing at the enemy plane, maintaining the fire into it’s cockpit even as it’s wing slices the rear of the SBD away mere inches from him.  The Betty crashed into the sea, and Bruno is credited with causing to miss the ship.

Bruno disappeared inside the bowels of the ship, figuring he’d be in trouble for leaving his normal battle station.  Quite the contrary; Admiral William “Bull” Halsey had him brought to the bridge, where he summarily ordered him promoted to Aviation Machinist Mate FIRST Class.

Spring forward to June 4, 1942 and Bruno Gaido was in the rear of Ensign Frank O’Flaherty’s Dauntless as they dove on the IJN Carrier Kaga when Bombing and Scouting 6 from Enterprise sent her to the bottom.  As many know, Akagi, Soryu and Hiryu would also be sunk that day.

Can you imagine what being a rear gunner in a WWII dive bomber must have been like?  During the attack, the aircraft dove at a 70% angle, nearly straight down.  Held tight by safety belts, scanning for any fighters that dared to attempt to follow the dive, the rear gunner may never have known of a crash or a hit by anti-aircraft fire.

After their bombing run Ensign O’Flaherty and AMM Gaido attempted to make it home to Enterprise, but due to a punctured fuel tank and another attack by Japanese Zero fighters, had to ditch at sea.

The pair were picked up, “rescued” by the Japanese destroyer Makigumo.  The officers of the destroyer, angered by the loss they had witnessed of the Japanese carriers, interrogated and tortured the American airmen.  After days of this, on June 15, they ordered weights tied the both men and had them thrown overboard to drown.  The Japanese sailors who survived the war to tell said both men faced their fate with courage and stoicism.  Bruno Gaido’s ship mates had expected no less…he had gained a reputation.

As for the war criminals on the Makigumo? The ship was sunk during the Guadalcanal campaign and none of the officers responsible for the murder survived the war.